Durango’s City Council passed the gavel Tuesday – virtually – to mark the transition to a new council and a new, unanimously chosen mayor, Kim Baxter.
The swearing in ceremony took place via Zoom because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with council members joining from different locations.
Melissa Youssef, Jessika Buell and Olivier Bosmans were sworn in after their election victories earlier this month. Former Mayor Dean Brookie and City Councilor Chris Bettin left the council with complimentary parting words and a challenge, while Baxter outlined a vision for the future focused primarily on housing.
“It’s been an honor, and I pass the gavel,” Brookie said. “I challenge the new council: You are the future. Use your talent and your vision to guide us into the future. ...That’s what you were elected to do.”
Brookie, who was term-limited, served as mayor during the Gold King Mine spill in 2015 and during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he was a councilor during the 416 Fire.
He recounted eight years of service on City Council, describing his role in notable projects, such as beginning public recreation at Lake Nighthorse after years of negotiations and approving the new wastewater treatment plant, the “single largest expenditure in Durango history,” he said.
Bettin, who chose not to seek a second term, thanked city staff members and current and former councilors who acted as mentors. He credited councilors Barbara Noseworthy and Baxter for their dedication to the role and Councilor Youssef for her work building bridges during difficult times.
Bettin and Brookie said they planned to celebrate the end of their terms with former mayors and councilors at Steamworks Brewing Co.
“I will miss all of you, but I too will go have a beer,” Bettin said.
Within minutes, the new council took over the videoconferencing screen, including newcomers Buell and Bosmans, and Youssef, who was re-elected during the April municipal elections. Tuesday was the first meeting of their four-year terms.
The new council’s first action was to unanimously elect Baxter as mayor and Noseworthy as mayor pro tem.
“My focus as mayor this year will be very consistent when I ran for council,” Baxter said.
She said she would prioritize providing housing for the city’s workforce, like firefighters, police and teachers, without raising taxes. Baxter also committed to supporting staff members in key areas, such as organizational culture and customer service.
Finally as mayor, she would emphasize improving the city’s financial transparency and accountability, she said.
In a short statement, Noseworthy welcomed the new council.
“I look forward to working with you (the councilors) and Kim to help achieve both her vision and the vision of council,” Noseworthy said.
As its first actions, the new council considered a new lease at the Durango-La Plata Airport and a financial update from city staff.
In upcoming months, the council members will take on the city’s ongoing economic recovery and development programs, while addressing issues such as housing, homelessness, transparency, wildfire preparedness and honing daily services for city residents.